Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to the official opposition supply day motion.
I would like to read the motion again. We are partway through the day on this debate and I think it is important that we have this kind of exchange in the House. It may be the only time we will get to talk about health care in this parliament. We certainly cannot talk about it in the health committee. The motion reads:
That this House recognize that the health care system in Canada is in crisis, the status quo is not an option, and the system that we have today is not sustainable; and, accordingly, that this House calls upon the government to develop a plan to modernize the Canadian health care system, and to work with the provinces to encourage positive co-operative relations.
Normally I am delighted to rise to bring the concerns of the constituents of my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, and indeed all Canadians, before the House of Commons. However, today I am saddened that we have to have this kind of debate.
Canadians know and cherish the health care system that we have in Canada. For many years we have had a “made in Canada” solution which ensures that all Canadians have access to quality health care. Generations of Canadians have grown up expecting that their loved ones, their families and they themselves will have adequate health care available to meet their needs.
Thanks to the Liberal government, Canadians no longer have this comfort. The cold reality is that the health care of yesterday has been destroyed by the Liberals of today and the system will not meet the health care requirements of tomorrow.
For a few moments I would like to describe the problems which I have seen resulting from the government's uncaring approach to health care over the last seven years.
In 1993 when the Liberals came to power the federal portion of the Canada health and social transfer was $18.8 billion. Within four short years the Liberals had slashed away over $6.3 billion annually. Today the transfers are still $3.3 billion lower than when the Liberals came to power in 1993.
In total they have stripped away $24.7 billion and, according to their budget plans, will continue this pattern with the removal of another $9.9 billion over the next three budget years. The total is an incredible $34.6 billion gouged out of Canada's health care system over a projected 11 years. That works out to $1,100 less in health care for every man, woman and child in Canada today.
Mr. Speaker, can you imagine what another $1,100 spent on health care for every person in your riding would do to alleviate the pain, the suffering and the discomfort which many Canadians feel?
In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan there are approximately 100,000 people. That translates into $110 million missing from health care that should go to the people of my riding. That $110 million could have been used to hire more nurses, to maintain and reopen operating rooms. This is money that could have been used to ensure that more people were not subjected to longer than necessary waiting lists, and for the opportunity to purchase or upgrade new medical technology equipment.
There is not a region in this country that has not been negatively affected by the callous financial approach that the Liberal government has inflicted upon Canadians from coast to coast.
At the Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan a dialysis unit sat idle. The primary reason it sat idle, simply put, was because there was not enough money in the system to hire trained personnel to operate the equipment. I ask my hon. colleagues here today to imagine the sense of concern that runs through a parent's heart when their child requires a dialysis machine to live and yet the equipment in the local hospital has never been used because of the lack of funding by the federal government.
I know what that feeling is. My daughter is one of those who may have required dialysis, and yet, even though the dialysis unit was only 15 minutes from our home, the stark reality was that if her one remaining kidney had shut down we were over one hour away from the nearest dialysis unit, and that was not always available to children.
It costs approximately $630,000 to purchase a dialysis unit. The annual operating costs for 36 patients totals approximately $1 million. Can we imagine if a portion of the $110 million the Liberals have ripped out of the system in my riding alone over the last seven years could have been used for dialysis in the Cowichan District Hospital? Can we imagine the sense of relief a parent or patient feels when a unit is finally opened and put into operation? Unfortunately this unit is already approaching capacity and it is expected that in less than one year new dialysis patients will once again be required to make the one hour trip to Victoria for dialysis treatment.
Here is another situation. In 1991 in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan Mr. Pat Carson donated $861,000 for the purchase of a CT scanner. Unfortunately Mr. Carson's wife had died of cancer. While there are no guarantees it was thought that earlier treatment for her could have been initiated through a faster diagnosis by way of a CT scan.
I know hon. members are wondering how the scanner is working and if it has indeed saved lives. I am sad to say that the scanner has never been purchased. The money has now accumulated to over $1.3 million and will continue to grow until the operating budget is put in place that can operate this equipment.
What budget is needed? All that is needed is approximately $500,000 annually. On behalf of the constituents of Nanaimo—Cowichan I can easily imagine $500,000 could be found in the $110 million the Liberal government has taken out of health care for my riding alone over the last seven years.
If these were the only stories then the story of health care in Canada today would not be such a sad tale of woe. Unfortunately this is only one of thousands of stories across the nation. Through the rest of today as we speak to this most important subject the House will hear of surgery waiting lists, cancelled surgeries, long waiting periods to see specialists, pain, suffering, and unfortunately even death.
In my home province of British Columbia we have had patients lying on gurneys in the hallways and in the linen closets of local hospitals. Cancelled surgeries at the hospitals in my riding in Nanaimo—Cowichan are a daily occurrence. We have done better in the past but we must do better than this in the future.
The track record of the Liberal government speaks loud and clear. On the occasions when I have raised at the Standing Committee on Health the issue of studying the overall system of health care in Canada unfortunately the Liberal majority said no. During the discussion at the agenda planning subcommittee one day one Liberal member actually had the audacity to state that health care was too big a topic for the committee to study.
Can members imagine that? Canadian health care was too big for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to study. If the Standing Committee on Health cannot study health, may I ask who should study health?
Earlier this month the Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report which stated that the number of health professionals from 1988 to 1997 did not keep pace with Canada's population growth, resulting in fewer health professionals per capita in 1997. Over that 10 year period the number of professionals per 10,000 population declined by 1.7%, from 185 to 182. Based on these numbers today we are short 9,000 health professionals in the country.
I further ask hon. members to consider our aging population. According to Statistics Canada the demographics of Canada for 2001 will have 13% of our population aged 65 or older. By 2026, just a few years down the road, this same age group will rise to 21% of our overall population. In real numbers this is a rise from 3,945,000 to 7,759,000, almost a complete doubling of this age group.
I remind hon. members that with a few exceptions it will probably include all of us here. It includes our peers, our personal friends, our neighbours and many family members. If we really want a universal health care system when we reach age 65, we must do something to heal the hurting health system right now.
Currently the Canadian Medical Association has noted with concern that the number of doctors leaving Canada is roughly equivalent to the graduating classes of six medical schools per year. That amounts to almost 40% of our medical school graduates. It now takes half the output of all Canadian medical schools to replace the physicians who leave the country annually.
One reason is simply the high cost of medical education. The president of the CMA asserts that the debt of a graduating medical student can rise as high as a $140,000. Other reasons given by the former director of research at the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges of Canada are health care cuts and plunging morale.
Here are some other facts. Some 731 doctors left the country in 1996 and 659 in 1997, for a total of 1,390 doctors in just two years. Doctors moving south of the border represent one-quarter of all medical personnel leaving the country every year. Most of those leaving are nurses. A 1997 study of 489 orthopedic surgeons graduating between 1985 and 1994 show that one-quarter had moved to the U.S. and 70% of the rest were considering it. The most common reasons were restrictions on operating time, unavailability of beds and other frustrations with practice restrictions.
CMA has also stated that there is a severe shortage of high tech physicians capable of reading the results of the latest findings in medical technology. There is currently a shortfall of 150 full time radiologists in Canada with an expected shortfall of 500 over the next four years.
Let us not forget that it takes a great deal of time to train the doctors and nurses we need in Canada. Regular training for a general practitioner is at least seven years and specialist training takes thirteen or fourteen years. We are short of trained staff now, not in seven to thirteen years. A crisis looms on the horizon. Yet the government remains intent upon destroying rather than renewing our stressed health care system.
The Liberal government has attempted to make the claim that it is the only party willing to support the five tenets of the Canada Health Act. That is just not true. The 1997 red book stated the Liberals' commitment to:
—the five fundamental principles of our medicare system, and on our commitment to the continuing role, in financing and other aspects, of the federal government in health care.
If that is indeed what the Liberals meant in 1997, why have they misled the Canadian public? How far is that from the reality of today when the government is truly the architect of the demise of the Canada Health Act?
Across the country there are examples of abuses of the Canada Health Act. In my province of British Columbia where the NDP government reigns supreme the workers' compensation board is allowed by the Canada Health Act, and supported by the government, to send its patients with knee problems to a private clinic either in the United States or the province of Alberta. To me that is queue jumping. To me that violates the whole principle of universality. The government ought to do something about that if it is indeed the protector of the Canada Health Act.
People who need MRIs should be careful. There may be a three or four month line-up, or perhaps they can pay $800 cash at a private clinic and avoid the line-up. If they do not like the waiting time involved, they can take their credit cards and head south of the border. Many Canadian doctors and nurses are there already. When they get there, there will perhaps be a reunion of friends they have not seen for a while.
Who then is responsible for the two tier system in Canada today? It is not this side of the House. It is the other side of the House. Has the Liberal government attempted to resolve these issues? The simple answer is no. Rather than working with the provinces and attempting to ensure that all Canadians have quality health care, the Prime Minister and Minister of Health prefer to antagonize, to cause dissension and not to build unity.
In a press release yesterday and in an article in the Ottawa Citizen the Premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Romanow, is quoted as saying that he has been pushing the federal government for several months to create a national inquiry but was turned down. I am not surprised. I was turned down in the health committee over the last two and a half years. Why should it give me that privilege when it will not even give it to the Premier of Saskatchewan?
Canadians are starting to see past the Liberal smoke and mirror show when it comes to health. I think they are getting tired of it. Canadians are now starting to turn to other people, to other groups in the country and to other levels of government to try to right the wrongs the Liberal government has forced upon them. Corrective actions cannot be implemented immediately, but they could begin immediately if there were some kind of consensus building shown by the leadership of the government to do something about the most important problem for Canadians today.
My colleagues and I recognize that money alone is not the whole solution. We cannot deny that many of the problems were caused by the significant reduction in funding that the Liberal government has slashed from health care. What a drop it has been from 1996 when it committed to a 50:50 split to now when approximately 11% of health care dollars going into the system come from the Liberal government.
Many of the solutions will require funding. Yes, further efficiencies can be found in the system. Certainly we need more trained professionals. Indeed we face challenges that we have not even previously encountered. Yes, we have an aging population. Yes, the delivery of health care services remains a provincial responsibility.
What positive role has the federal government put forward? Can we name one thing it has done? To date it has been nothing. It has been irresponsible in its lack of solutions to the health care crisis we now face in Canada. It has been inconsistent in the enforcement of the Canada Health Act.